Ukraine: Daily Briefing
June 15, 2018, 5 PM Kyiv time
1. Russian Invasion of Ukraine
Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense reported at 12:30 PM Kyiv time that attacks on Ukrainian positions by Russian-terrorist forces significantly escalated in the last 24 hours. In the last 24 hours, two Ukrainian soldiers were killed and six Ukrainian soldiers were wounded in action. In the last 24 hours, Russian-terrorist forces opened fire on Ukrainian positions on the Luhansk and Donetsk sectors of the front 33 times in total, including at least 15 times with heavy weapons – artillery, tanks and mortars.
2. Russia prohibits Ukrainian ombudswoman from meeting Ukrainian political prisoner Sentsov
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported, “Ukrainian ombudswoman Lyudmyla Denisova says she was prevented from meeting with jailed filmmaker Oleh Sentsov, who is on hunger strike in prison in far northern Russia. […] In a video statement on Facebook, Denisova said she arrived at the penal colony in the Yamalo-Nenets region on June 15, but that the warden and the regional prison service chief did not allow her to meet with Sentsov. She said they gave no explanation of the decision. […]
Sentsov has been on hunger strike since May 14, demanding that Russia release 64 Ukrainian citizens he considers political prisoners. Western governments and rights organizations have called for Sentsov to be released, and the Russian human rights group Memorial considers him a political prisoner. The European Parliament on June 14 overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on Russian authorities to release Sentsov and all the other illegally detained Ukrainian citizens in Russia and Russian-controlled Crimea immediately and unconditionally.”
3. Resolution introduced in US Senate targeting Russia, other states for violations of human rights, freedoms, religious freedom
On June 11, US Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced a bipartisan resolution in the US Senate “urging President Trump to take action against some of the worst violators of religious freedom in Europe and Central Asia. Key targets of the legislation include the governments of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Turkey, and Russia, as well as Russian-led separatist forces in Ukraine,” the Helsinki Commission reported.
“S.Res.539 targets governments of participating States of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) that have not complied with specific OSCE commitments to respect fundamental human rights and freedoms, including religious freedom,” the Helsinki Commission stated.
Among its proposed actions, the resolution urges President Trump to designate Azerbaijan, Russia, and Turkey as ‘Special Watch List Countries’ for severe violations of religious freedom, and “block entry to the United States and impose financial sanctions on individual violators in these countries, including but not limited to […] Kremlin officials responsible for Russia’s forcible, illegal occupation of Crimea; Russian-led separatist forces in Ukraine.”
The full text of the Resolution is available here
4. Here’s why OFAC’s new Russia sanctions are significant
Daniel Fried, former US State Department coordinator for sanctions policy, and Brian O’Toole, former US Treasury official, wrote for the Atlantic Council, “Set against the odd frame of US President Donald J. Trump wanting to invite Russia to govern the world as part of a reconstituted G8, the actions taken by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on June 11 to sanction Russian cyber actors were a welcome reminder that actions can speak louder than words and that credible, sustainable actions like these are (hopefully) what advance actual policy goals.
Taken by itself, this set of sanctions is the important, if routine, work that dismantles networks of bad actors doing bad things. It was not escalatory, but it serves as a reminder of the threats posed by Russia and raises some interesting questions.
The OFAC sanctions target the destabilizing cyber activities of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB). The press release on the sanctions specifically mentioned Russia’s responsibility for the devastating NotPetya cyber hack that caused billions of dollars in damage to companies and devastated the computer systems at global shipping giant Maersk, Ukraine’s Boryspil International Airport, US pharmaceutical giant Merck, and many others. It also cited Russia’s prepositioning of cyber assets that have the potential to cause global disruption, including intrusions of the US energy grid.
Stated this way, especially the targeting of global commerce and critical infrastructure systems that are well outside of normal state-to-state hacking for espionage purposes, the Trump administration is publicly painting Russia with the same broad brush of bad cyber actor that it has used against Iran and North Korea. That is rather significant company as this administration has not even accused China, long seen as the most significant global cyber threat, of such behavior.
A final notable piece of the sanctions was the targeting of Russian entities that enable Russia’s undersea espionage and hacking efforts. The US and UK governments have previously warned about the threat posed by Russia’s access to the undersea cables that essentially prop up the global financial system and the Internet.
It is unlikely that OFAC would specifically name cyberattack access points in a designation action-such information would reveal sources and methods of intelligence collection and would not be necessary to support a designation-but noting that threat raises the question of whether Russian security services used such undersea tools in the NotPetya attack or have used them to lay the groundwork to cripple the critical systems that traverse those cables.”